‘Letters to Myself’ Highlights How ‘Hope Keeps Your Eyes Fixed on Jesus’
Emily Stimpson Chapman’s new book is a good read for these times.
LETTERS TO MYSELF FROM THE END OF THE WORLD
By Emily Stimpson Chapman
Emmaus Road Publishing, June 2021
288 pages, $19.95
To order: preorder at StPaulCenter.com.
In the course of 45 letters to herself 20 years younger, Emily Stimpson Chapman writes profound truths, expressing all the things one has learned over the course of two decades of living, loving, suffering and experiencing spiritual growth.
Letters to Myself From the End of the World was penned during the pandemic, and all that accompanied it, i.e., “the end of the world.”
But it is not about doom and gloom. It is about light and hope.
In one letter to 25-year-old Emily, she writes: “Jesus is here. He doesn’t change. Which is the best news I can give you. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. The decision you made to follow Jesus is the single best decision you will ever make. Keep looking at Him. Keep talking to Him. Keep listening to Him. Keep following Him. You need Him more than you realize. We all do.”
As Emily’s editor here at the Register, I have long enjoyed reading her writing and the way she can encapsulate her personal feelings in a universally relatable way, with beautiful turns of phrase.
Reading these heartfelt letters is like chatting with a friend.
If you follow Emily on Instagram, you know of her world — her lovely home filled with her people, including her adorable children, and her pretty kitchen — and can envision, as you read, her typing away, writing words of wisdom to her younger self.
She acknowledges that God’s plans are mysterious and can take us on paths we never wanted or anticipated, stating that “the journey will not look like you expect it to look.”
As she tells herself, “After all these years, though, I think I finally trust that God knows best. At the very least, I’m no longer angry at Him for not meeting my desires on my timeline. I’m sad. But I’m not angry.”
“Don’t ever believe God loves you less … just because life doesn’t go according to plan,” 45-year-old Emily assures herself — and readers.
As a hopeful wordsmith who loves the promise of Jeremiah 29:11, I, too, understand how God’s plans are often not ours, but that he shows us his care and presence along the new paths he leads us.
Emily doesn’t shy away from tackling sin, Satan and the scandals of the Church, plus racial justice, cultural upheaval, eating disorders, infertility and more, in an honest way; she upholds the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith and affirms the dignity of the human person along the way.
Sometimes she writes simple, to-the-heart statements: “So, I sit here worrying.”
She also states at one point, “… you will start to wonder if God has forgotten you or if He’s even really there. No matter how silent God seems, though, Emily, He is always there. He could never forget you. … Even the great saints walk through seasons where God seems silent and far away.”
“How do you trust Him when you pray but hear only silence in return?” she writes, as much to herself as to you and me.
“Recalling concretely how God has blessed me and guided me in the past, even when I couldn’t feel Him, helps me trust He is with me in the present. It also reminds me that God does indeed know what He’s doing. He has a plan, and it’s good,” she advises, referencing “ … the greatest gift God gave me during that time of unanswered prayers: a desire for the Giver of all gifts that exceeded my desire for the gifts. He changed my desires. That changed my prayers. … Prayer taught me trust, and that gave me the ability to have my deepest prayer be ‘Not my will but yours.’”
“Don’t ever be afraid to share your heart with the Lord,” she emphasizes. “Don’t stop asking Him for what your heart desires. Go to Him again and again with your needs and your wants, your fears and your worries. But don’t just ask God for what you want. Ask God for what He wants. Ask Him to open your eyes to His plan for you. Ask Him to conform your heart to His. Ask Him to fill you with His desires and make them the desires of your heart.”
At one point, she discusses the need to live the present well, which brought to my mind St. Gianna Molla’s instruction: “Live holy the present moment.”
She also quotes Catherine Doherty on how “the duty of the moment is the duty of God.”
“Along with Catherine Doherty, there is a veritable chorus … singing the praises of growing in holiness by simply doing your present duty with love, from St. Thérèse of Lisieux and her ‘little way’ to Venerable Fulton Sheen, who taught that ‘motive is what makes the saint.’”
“Be fully present, fully attentive, fully aware, doing everything you do for Jesus Christ,” she underlines.
The letters on motherhood are beautiful, acknowledging the blessings of little ones as well as how it is “the most beautiful kind of hard.”
In addition, these pages address suffering and the Last Things, imparting poignant truths, including, “To suffer with love … is to recognize that through suffering, God draws us closer to Himself.”
“The crosses you carry will soften your hardest edges,” she explains. “They will humble you and gentle you. You will have more compassion and more love for others because of your suffering.”
She goes on to describe how, “by God’s grace, I said no to the world and yes to Christ. And even though the crosses I carried felt heavy, that pain, born with love, led me here, to this blessed now.”
As she highlights the theological virtue of hope, Emily shares how “hope is the desire to be with Jesus. … In other words, hope reminds you what matters most and Who matters most. Hope keeps your eyes fixed on Jesus and your feet fixed on the path to which He’s called you.”
I love how she discusses the saints: “I look to the saints. I look to Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein, Gianna Beretta Molla and John Paul II, John Henry Newman and Josephine Bakhita, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Pierre Toussaint … Take your inspiration from them. Imitate them. Follow their lead and example. Above all, call on their prayers for the help you need navigating the narrow and rocky path to which Christ has called you.”
“… To be Catholic is to know you’re walking through life accompanied by legions of heavenly helpers,” she adds.
“When we call upon the saints, we’re calling on family, and we’re growing in love the way God made us to grow.”
“The saints will encourage you in your faith. The Eucharist will nourish your faith. But knowledge will ground your faith,” she reflects.
“Sit before Jesus in Adoration and contemplate His holy face, hidden in the Eucharist,” she instructs. And she quotes the wise wisdom of writing patron St. Francis de Sales: “[G]ive your soul to Him a thousand times a day.”
I also enjoyed the sections on Mary and the feminine genius and how Church teaching on these important matters has bolstered her in the various seasons of life when she has felt out of place, or lonely or just plain awkward.
Mother Mary is with us through it all, she underscores: “Mary will never let you down. She will get you home.”
As she writes about the feminine genius, “It’s loving others to holiness — prioritizing the person over every other worldly good, seeing the everlasting importance of each individual soul, and helping others to see that too.”
She expounds: “It’s that inner disposition — the readiness to see, welcome, and love — that defines the feminine genius.”
Along the way, Chapman admits that there are moments when “I return to whispering to Jesus in the chaos.”
Amid keeping the faith amid the chaos in her own heart and in the world, she continuously points to Christ.
In her last letter she repeats the truth we all need to hear: “God loves you.”
Pick up a copy for yourself, your sister(s) and your friends, and then chat about it together (along with your mom, grandma(s), godmother and aunts).
Ultimately, this book is a reminder to Emily’s younger self, as well as readers, that this journey of life is all about striving for holiness toward our heavenly homeland right where, and with whom, God has placed us.
It is a blessed read, indeed.
- amy smith
- emily stimpson chapman
- book picks
- catholic women
- feminine genius
- theological virtues
- christian hope
- catholic living